With Canada pledging it will welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, one local resort manager has taken it upon himself to help out.
Last week in an interview with CBC Radio, Raphael Assaf, the manager of Beaverfoot Lodge and Resort, revealed that he is willing to help in any way that he can, including making room for approximately 70 refugees at the expansive property that he manages just outside of Yoho National Park.
The lodge, a 40 minute drive east of Golden, sees the vast majority of its tourist traffic during the summer, with business slowing down considerably after September.
“Those six weeks in the summer are huge and the rest of the year is just kind of stragglers…we always have space,” Assaf said.
This makes the resort an ideal place to house refugees over the winter, according to Assaf. Beaverfoot has winterized lodges, rustic cabins and executive cabins that would provide ample living space for several dozen Syrians.
The lodge would also be willing to cover food and transportation costs, Assaf says.
Assaf, who is part Lebanese, has travelled extensively, including to several countries in the Middle East, and has seen first hand how difficult life has been for the people who live there.
“We saw an opportunity to give some help…there’s no ulterior motive,” Assaf said.
“I lived in Lebanon…I know that these aren’t a bunch of terrorists they’re just a bunch of families like us.”
Assaf says he has also been inspired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stance on refugees and his promise to accept 25,000 of them before the new year.
“I’m a team player, and if the government’s really going to be this ambitious, I know about being ambitious…when people are ambitious they need help, so that’s it, let’s help,” Assaf said.
Assaf has received numerous calls of support form various human rights organizations since the story broke on CBC and says the lodge is ready to host refugees immediately.
Some have voiced their concerns regarding hosting refugees away from a major city, but Assaf believes the lodge’s relative isolation could be a positive rather than a negative.
“They’re going through chaos…they just want to feel safe,” he said.
As of late last week, Assaf had yet to reach out to Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, but the newly elected MP commended Assaf for his efforts and echoed his opinion that a smaller community could be beneficial for refugees.
“I do think it’s important that the refugees get the opportunity to look at different parts of the country, rural as well as urban,” Stetski said.
“In Vancouver, the schools are already overflowing, the cost of housing is really expensive. So in many cases I think it makes more sense, from a social as well as an economic perspective, to welcome refugees into smaller communities. I hope that’s part of the Liberal’s plan.”
There were calls from some prominent Canadian politicians, including Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, for the Liberals to suspend their refugee plans in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, but Trudeau has said the plan will continue as scheduled.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly claimed that Beaverfoot Lodge was a 15 minute drive east of Golden.